Learn to Surf: #1 Rips & Currents

Before you enter the Surf, be aware and take notice….

Rips & Currents

The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that 80 percent of all rescues on surf beaches are caused by rip currents.


A rip is a body of water that is pulling away from the beach and back out into the ocean.

A wave breaks and washes into shore, the water contained in the wave must move back out to sea. This happens by a channel being formed and the water flowing into it to create a current that is strong enough to pull out through the incoming waves.

As a beginner surfer what you need to know is that the rip only goes out as far as the breaking waves. It will not drag you for miles and miles out to sea, if you find yourself in a rip you should go with it and then simply paddle to the side and catch a wave back in towards the shore. DO NOT PANIC but be aware of what is happening. Stay on your surfboard and keep an eye on the breaking waves which may become bigger as you are pulled further out.

Rips are identifiable by a number of ways:

  • The colouring of the water may have changed to a murky dirtier colour, this is caused by the sand being stirred up from the bottom.
  • The surface of the water may be choppier or rougher, this is created by the incoming and outgoing flows of water.

You may see surfers entering the surf directly into a rip. An experienced surfer who wishes to surf the back breaking waves can use the rip to be pulled out to the peak. It is the quickest and most efficient way to get out into the line-up.

Remember, if you are a beginner, until your confidence and surf awareness skill increase, surfing closer to the beach will most likely be a better and most importantly safer.

Currents run parallel with the beach and can be quite strong. They can drag you some distance if you are not aware of them. Before entering the surf identify a marker on the beach and take notice of how far away from that marker you have moved during your surf.


3 Myths about Rip Currents

Myth #1: Rip currents pull you under the water

Fact: Rip currents carry people away from the shore. They are surface currents. They are not “undertows”

An undertow is a short-lived, sub-surface surge of water associated with wave action. It can drag you down, but it’s not truly treacherous because you won’t be held under for long. Just relax and hold your breath, and you’ll pop to the surface, often on the back side of the waves breaking near shore.

Myth #2: If you get caught in a rip, you can be swept out to sea forever.

Fact: Even under the worst conditions, you won’t be swept to the middle of the ocean, though it could be a long swim back to shore

Most rip currents are part of a closed circuit, says Robert Anthony Dalrymple, a coastal engineer and rip current scientist at Johns Hopkins University. If you ride a rip current long enough – float along with it – you will usually be taken back to shore by a diffuse, weaker return flow. When the surf and currents are out of control, most people should stay out of the water.

Myth #3: If you don’t see a rip current, you don’t have to worry about one

Fact: Rip currents can form spontaneously, in response to the interaction of a lot of waves coming together from many directions at once.

These wave-induced “flash” rips may last only a few minutes or they may pulse – wax and wane – over a longer period of time. Flash rip currents are not as powerful or dangerous as other rips but they can nonetheless take people off guard and induce panic.

So THE MOST important thing is  – DO NOT PANIC !


Pata Sudaka Surf Trips
Written by Christina S. Johnson
Article from exscreeme.com PDF Learn to surf A Basic Beginners guide.